The Furniture American Chairs Of French Inspiration

That many of our furniture-Styles at this period derived from France is a matter of common information: the question has been how they did so—how our craftsmen arrived at sufficient knowledge for working purposes: for probably very little of the French furniture was brought over, and in any event it would seldom be at their disposal. Yet the use of those Styles here was geographically widespread.

Considering the results presently to be shown, it would seem almoSt certain that our workmen availed themselves of the following source:

Throughout this and succeeding periods were published in Paris fine illustrated magazines—Journal des Dames et des Modes and Journal de la Mode et du Gout —now regarded in France as indispensable to a Study of these Styles, though "certain of these models were used, others quickly forgotten." These magazines contained illustrations not only of coStumes, of carriages—and how the parvenues did love those carriages! —but of wall-papers, of furniture, of textiles, and the like.

A collection of the furniture plates was issued, probably not a great many years ago, in Paris, in an undated handsome quarto volume entitled "Meubles et Objets de Gout, 1796-1830," and from this I have made tracings of several chairs, by permission of William Helburn, Inc., New York. We shall soon see how these Styles were used in American work.

As these magazines contained hundreds of illustrations, it is possible that our skilled workmen may have found in them sufficient information for their needs; but, in tracing back the various contours and decor ative motifs, it appears equally indisputable to me that they availed themselves of the modes of the Jacobs, and this is a problem decidedly more puzzling. For our own use to-day illustrations of a large body of the work of the three firms are accessible in the handy little portfolios credited under my tracings, again by permission of Mr. Helburn, but, so far as I have been able to learn, none existed at the period itself; and so it is difficult to see how Americans could have become intimately acquainted with their product unless they secured patterns direét. We know that David's designs were widely copied in France and possibly Jacob's were also and were illustrated in some source as yet unknown to us; but however the models were secured the reader will find it extremely interesting to trace these origins of our delightful workmanship.

As early as the laSt years of Louis Seize there were beautiful sofas {hits de Repos) with all the wealth of decoration of that ornate Style but with roll-over arms (see Plate 92 A) and this roll, extending itself to chair-backs, was one of the prominent features of the Style and will be seen in many of the illustrations of American chairs here. Another mode, also widely adopted, was the extension of the upper back-rail of chairs beyond the Stiles, as is shown in figure 2, Plate 91, though our chair-backs never had so deep a curve— see Plates 93 and 101. There was also the horn-back a close approximation to which will be seen in Plate 102.

Let us look again at the series of four tracings at the top of Plate 91. It will be noted that in figure 1 the back is hollowed not only inward but downward— and so are moSt of the Phyfe chairs, and those in Plate 100. Phyfe also used the hollowed cross-bars with rosette., shown in figure 3, and the diamond-back

(but without the cross-bar) of figure 4. Another of his forms—though there was not room here to illustrate this and some of the above—was the horseshoe seat. This, too, appeared before the death of Louis Seize and is seen in the little later Revolutionary chair in Plate 92 B and in the American decorated chair to the left in Plate 100. JuSt below it (Plate 92 C) is a simplified leg finishing in the spiral twiSt, appearing to some extent in French, English, and American Direftoire furniture, but which played such a prominent role in our Empire period.

The rosette or "button" seen at the front sides of many Phyfe chairs (including Plate 98 B) derived from such French examples as that shown in Plate 91, figure 6.

Very probably the diagonal back-Straps with rosettes in the chair juSt referred to (Plate 92 B) will seem familiar: they should do so, for they were taken up by Sheraton in England and in America as well in such examples as Plate 93, which also shows the extended back-rail.

This same French chair (Plate 92 B), and that in Plate 94 A, shows the simplified, round, turned leg that now took the place of the ornamental fluted leg of the monarchy. In the normal Style of Louis Seize all four legs were always Straight, but in the late years, when the cry everywhere was "back to antiquity," the back legs were flared outward, the front ones remaining Straight, as in these two chairs. This conStru&ion also extensively appears in American examples.

But soon the front legs also were flared in the same manner, and we have the form shown in Plate 91, figures 5 and 6. The tie-rods beneath the seat in this firSt French example were of brass, and it is rather a

Directoire 1796-99 ConauUt iSoo-oa Con*uUr lÄoo-ojt, Direcioir« 1796-9

5 6 A. FRENCH CHAIRS. THE INSPIRATION OF ENGLISH AND AMERICAN EXAMPLES From "Meubles er Objecs de Goût" by permission Wm. Helburn, Inc., New York

Chairs Beautifully Carved Drawing

A. Louis XVI LitJeRepos already showing rolled top

  1. Louis XVI LitJeRepos already showing rolled top
  2. Chair of French Revolutionary Period with back adopted in Sheraton furniture
Chaise Directoire Jacob Res

C. Louis XVI chair-leg with spiral finish All made by G.Jacobs From "Les Sieges de Georges Jacobs'' By permission of William Helburn, Inc., New York


William Cadwalader

"LATE SHERATON" ARM CHAIR WITH DIRECTÖWE BACK Made in Philadelphia From the Cadwalader house By Courtesy of Estate of James Curran

Note Plate 91 B

Directoire Rolled Over Back Chair

A. French Directoire chair with simplified straight fronr legs Covered in contemporary silk

French Directoire chairs with curves from which the type developed shown in Plate 95 A, 96, and ç

All made by and stamped Jacob Frères From "Les Siegès de Jacob Frères" By permission of William Helburn, Inc., New York

NEW YORK DIRECTGIRE CHAIR WITH AMERICAN EAGLE Loaned to the Metropolitan Museum by R. T. H. Halsey, Esq.


  1. PHYFE ARM CHAIR AT P. T. JOHNSON HOUSE BEVERLY FARMS By Courtesy of the late Mary H. Northend
  2. DUNCAN PHYFE ARM CHAIR Loaned to the Metropolitan Museum by R. T. Haines Haisey, Esq.
C French Revolutionary Fautml stamped G. Jacob. See Plate QQ From "Les Sieges de Georges Jacob" By permission of Wm. Helburn, Inc., New York

DUNCAN PHYFE SIDE CHAIRS OF OIRECT01RE TOTE Loaned by R. T. Haines Ha.sey, Esq„ „ che Mecropaliran Museum pity that so unusual and attractive a feature was not taken up here.

We now reach the development adopted more largely in America than any other, and which extended into the Empire period both in France and in this country. I think, too, that I have discovered how this development came about. If the reader will refer to Plate 94 B he will see how the back-support began to extend forward, encroaching upon the seat-rail; in the next figure the seat-rail is hollowed under and the legs concave and then flare outward. If we join those two features we have the graceful series of curves forming the front of the chair in Plate 95 A (an American chair copied from French examples) sweeping down in the front from the volute at the top into the seat-rail and then inward and down the concave front leg. And this construction as naturally eventuates in the lovely serpentine line in the back, again from the volute to the foot of the back leg. Both of these graceful series of curves came into the furniture world for the firSt time with this French Revolution-Direftoire Style.

The completed contour is important to us because of its frequent use in this and the following period here. Sheraton adopted and shows it, in October, 1803, in his "Cabinet Dictionary" Appendix Plate No. 4, elaborating it with heads and ornament above the legs and adding paw-feet. The English chair in the Victoria and Albert Museum, Plate 91, figure 8, here, is of the "Trafalgar" period—1805.

Whenever the Strictly Classic influence seizes upon humanity we shall see the ancient curule chair occurring as one of its early manifestations. It was so in the Renaissance period, and in the French volume previously referred to several examples of Stools and chairs appear in the Consulate sedtion. It was promptly adopted by Thomas Sheraton and appears in his "Cabinet Diitionary" of 1803. The back of Duncan Phyfe's curule chair, Plate 95 B, is French throughout. Its top-rail is hollowed downward as well as inward, and its double-hoop joined by a rosette is Straight

Direttoire. .

A remarkably satisfa&ory adoption ol .trench forms will be seen in the pair of decorated chairs illustrated in Plate 100. Besides other features which will now be recognised, is the finishing of the legs with the bamboo ringing and the bulging front Stretchers seen in so much French Provincial furniture. Pointing downward in the upper legs of the chair to the right is the little "palmette," and the painted ornament of both chairs is of Direttoire character. Such seating-furniture as this would be charming for the bedroom or the breakfaSt-room. Those in Plate 101 are of generally similar character but are of mahogany.

As will be seen by referring to the Phyfe chairs, here, two of his favourite decorative motifs were reeding—which in all his furniture he indulged in almost to excess—and a leaf which is not the flowing acanthus of Chippendale or Sheraton but which is more akin to the water-leaf. He employed a dog's foot on some of his curved-leg chairs. The round, reeded, leg was also used in his Sheraton pieces. The lyre (Plate 98 B) was a motif much in evidence in all countries during the classic movement, beginning with the Louis XVI Style in France and Robert Adam in England.

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